- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 4, 2004

DALLAS — Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants to build a new $654-million arena to showcase his NFL team.

At first he dreamed of a $1 billion facility, somewhere in Dallas or nearby. That visage included not only a football stadium but other entertainment venues, offices, parks.

Dallas fans seem generally excited about the apparent return to respectability the Cowboys managed under Bill Parcells last season, but some think the cost might be too high, even though Jones has scaled down his initial plans.

Jones and his associates have tossed out a different “plan,” this time to build a showcase 75,000-seat stadium at the city’s Fair Park, site of the once-proud (now decrepit) Cotton Bowl.

The one problem: He wants taxpayers to pick up most of the tab. There is growing opposition, both from politicians and taxpayers, some of whom point to Jones’ personal fortune of more than $850 million and suggest he should ante up himself.

Some of them might point to the Redskins — the Cowboys’ longtime rivals in the NFC East — and Washington’s former owner Jack Kent Cooke. FedEx Field, formerly Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, in Landover, Md., was completed in 1997 and privately financed by Cooke. The late owner put up $250 million of his own money to build the stadium, and the state of Maryland added $70 million to help with infrastructure needs, such as roads.

The Cowboys have called Texas Stadium home since 1971. The unusual open-domed stadium in suburban Irving is seen as an adequate facility but not the supra-modern site showcased by several other NFL teams, particularly the Redskins.

Jones has discovered public-sponsored projects often are rife with roadblocks.

Dallas opened the $230-million American Airlines Center in 2001, utilizing increases in hotel and rental taxes and promising no property or sales taxes would be used. The measure barely passed a public referendum; the costs soared, and the city paid far more than expected for infrastructure, access and streets.

The Dallas Stars and Dallas Mavericks are the major tenants. American Airlines agreed to pay $195 million over 30 years for the naming rights. Though the city paid $125 million, the teams rent the facility for $3.4 million a year and pocket all profit.

Jones has been maneuvering toward building a new home for his Cowboys for several years. He hired lobbyists and insiders to develop and pass a bill in the state legislature that would allow Dallas County to raise taxes on hotel and rental car charges for such purposes.

Earlier this year the Cowboys’ owner went to Dallas County commissioners (four commissioners and a county judge oversee county financial activity) and asked them to OK $425 million in public funding for a $654 million stadium. Then, in a demand not seen as diplomatic, he told the county leaders they had to comply by June 30 so the issue could be placed on the November ballot for citizens’ vote.

County Judge Margaret Keliher and others said the timetable was impossible, and they expressed reservations about the Jones plan for the hefty raises in hotel and rental car taxation. The travel industry responded harshly, saying such taxes would drive away conventions and other business.

In the course of their own feasibility study of the situation, county officials asked Jones for various financial input. None was forthcoming. The Cowboys announced they weren’t dealing with the county anymore.

“They brought us a two-page presentation,” commissioner John Wiley Price said. “You get letters from constituents longer than that,” he added. “It’s not necessary that it had to be a dissertation, but we needed something that was relevant. If you want $425 million, you have to have something to base that on.”

City politicians wondered why Jones didn’t approach them. The city council seemed split in its original thinking about the new plan — whatever it was. Several said they liked the idea of razing the Cotton Bowl and upgrading the southeast part of the city, which fell into disrepair.

Others questioned whether a move to the run-down Fair Park area would be a good move.

“I wonder if that would be a good plan,” said Murphy Martin, 79, a former ABC TV anchorman who once worked as stadium announcer.

“I don’t have a doubt that they can do anything they want to — inside the park,” Martin added. “They can make it nice and wonderful and so forth, but what are you going to do outside, all around the perimeter?”

But the whole thing might become moot, at least as far as the city’s financial involvement.

“Our agreement does not allow municipal dollars to be spent to build a facility that competes with American Airlines Center,” said Brad Mayne, president and CEO of Center Operating Co., which manages the arena.

“I’m tired of them giving away the store,” lawyer Robert Tharp said last week. “Everybody promises everything, and the city gets nothing but more debt.”

Said Martin: “I think all over the country people are kind of fed up with taxes paying for sports venues. And some of that is probably colored by 9/11, so many people out of work and a whole different financial attitude.”

Those close to him say Jones would like the stadium to be in Dallas, but the city’s northern suburbs seem more realistic.

Jones usually gets what he wants, but in this case he may not. Stay tuned.

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